WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives yesterday quickly approved a bill that would restructure a review board overseeing improvements at Washington-area airports and allow completion of a $1.9 billion, bond-financed capital improvement program at Washington's National and Dulles International Airports.
But the Bush administration "strongly opposes" the bill and will try to have it amended when it hits the Senate floor. Legislation similar to the House bill has been introduced in the Senate, but staff aides could offer no more than a general hope the Senate would consider the measure before Congress adjourns for the year, possibly next week.
The House approved the bill, introduced last week by Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., on a voice vote. The measure is considered necessary to overcome the Supreme Court's ruling in June that the review board established to oversee the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority was unconstitutional. The review board is needed to implement the bond program.
Under Rep. Oberstar's bill, the current review board, made up of nine members of Congress, would be replaced with another nine-member panel. The bill would require congressional leaders to submit lists of candidates to the authority's board, which then would select nine.
The bill also would remove the review board's power to veto actions proposed by the authority's board of directors. Instead, the review panel only could recommend changes to the proposed action. If the review board went along with the changes, the action could be taken. If not, the proposed action would have to be submitted to Congress, which would have 60 days to disapprove of it.
On June 17, the Supreme Court ruled the review board as then constructed violated the Constitution's separation of powers guarantee. The Constitution gave legislative powers to Congress and executive powers -- including veto authority -- to the President.
Because the old review board could veto actions takeen by the authority's board of directors and was made up of members of Congress, the court concluded the panel was an extension of Congress exercising executive powers.
The court stopped short of invalidating actiions already taken by the review board, including approval for the issuance of $1.9 billion of bonds. But a subsequent district court order implementing the ruling barred the authority from using future bond proceeds at National, while allowing their use at Dulles. The order will remain in effect until Congress fixes the review board.
The Bush administration says the Oberstar bill would violate the appointments clause of the Constitution, under which the President generally is given power to make appointments.